Monthly Archives: May 2012

Shades of the Joads, we gotta get rid of them EI suckin’ bums

There are bums. There will always be bums. There are scroungers and loungers, rounders and bounders, flim-flam artists and other assorted layabouts.

Have been since the beginning of time and always will be with us. Anybody who has ever worked with the unemployed (as have I) knows there are those who devote their lives to suckling at the tit of the system.

But, they also know that such individuals are anomalies and that most who find themselves jobless work diligently to rectify the situation and quite often (much more often than not) are successful in so doing.

But, there are those politicians who like to make political hay over indicting those they see as lazy sonsabitches who are only without work due to their own idleness.

Take Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, for example. Mr. Flaherty from his Ottawa bastion of safety and huge-huge pension potential made the public assertion recently, and to the effect, that there was no such thing as a bad job, and people should take whatever shit employment comes down the pike rather than ripping off all those hard-working taxpayers and making his government look bad.

Well, his exact words were: “There is no bad job, the only bad job is not having a job,” he told reporters. “I drove a taxi, I refereed hockey. You do what you have to do to make a living.”

You drove a cab, Jim? Good on you. In that I guess you joined all those medical doctors and scientists from Mumbai who can’t secure a position in this country that’s elevated about being a hack. But, that’s a whole other thing.

Anyway, at issue is something in this country known as EI – ‘Employment Insurance’, per se. When I was young, and when people were more honest about life’s realities, it was known as Un-employment Insurance. I guess somebody thought a truthful title was nasty.

Of course, this whole thing about EI is a lot of government grandstanding. EI, which is contributed to by the employed and employers is abrim with largesse and under no threat. Furthermore, it’s an insurance program, it isn’t the dole.

But, you know, it just doesn’t look good for a government that seems to be seeking ever-increasing control of the bad children that live in the country. Lost your job? Nice mid-management position with good salary and benefits? Well, hard-cheese, why aren’t you going out and driving that proverbial cab, doing a stint at Timmy’s, bagging groceries, picking fruit, or any other minimum-wage humble thing available rather than tapping into EI? Ya bum, ya.

There’s another thing. His silly and puffed-up observation that “there is no bad job” is just so much flapdoodle. There are indeed bad jobs. There are horrible jobs, jobs that surely should be taken and “shoved”.

I’ve done a few of them myself in my younger days. Devote 8-hours a day to chipping flux of spot welds in a stinking hot, corrugated iron shed with torches flashing all around you and try to convince yourself this is not a very, very bad job.

Try offloading 100-lb bags of rock salt from a boxcar in July heat, using your bare hands because protective gloves slip on the salt that’s on the surface of those bags and is merrily putting little tiny cuts on your hands leaving you to get shit from a moronic foreman who objects to the blood smears on the bags.

Unload plywood sheets from a 600-degree hotpress using your bare hands (since insulated gloves leave residue and customers don’t like that on their fancy wallboard). Believe me you move that sheet out very quickly.

And so it goes. And other people have had worse. And the final point is, I got away from those jobs by getting an education, and I don’t regret that I did. But, the benighted Mr. Flaherty seems to think that an educated and highly skilled man or woman should be prepared to sling beer at the local saloon or pump gas rather than waiting for a position commensurate with their skills and education.

I say wait for that position if you choose. That is what EI was designed for.

I’m not even going to get started on how his economic views would be coped with by seasonal workers in the tourism sector, or commercial fishermen, both of which groups are traditionally unemployed for parts of the year..

Generally I hate flying, but there have been moments …

Dorothy Parker once said she didn’t like writing, she liked “having written.” As a writer of sorts I agree with the divinely debauched Ms. P. But, I will also apply her thoughts on writing to flying. I do not like flying, but I like having flown because that means I have arrived intact at a destination I sought, rather than bobbing around mid-Pacific or mid-Atlantic with sharks homing in.

I don’t like flying for a number of other reasons as well. In the first place, it’s excruciatingly boring, and that boredom is only punctuated by moments of stark terror. Turbulence always unnerves me; the seats viciously uncomfortable and leave me with a numb-bum for ages afterwards; and the second the flight attendants block the passageway with the drink trolley, I know that I will have to pee more urgently than I’ve ever had to in my life.

I won’t even get into the excruciating and insultingly outrageous security checks we all have to undergo these days. The only people to have gained from those hideous exercises are the chronic exhibitionists. “Hey, please, I really want to show you my junk!”

I have had only a few very good moments on an airplane. I’ve never joined, nor been invited to join the ‘Mile High Club’ (sigh) but I have met some interesting people. Once, on a flight from Vancouver to Honolulu  I was actually hit upon by a gorgeous flight attendant (back when they were still known as stewardi) who left no doubt that she would like me to join her for her three-day layover in Hawaii. She didn’t define exactly what she meant by ‘layover’, but being no naif (I don’t think), I got the gist of her invitation. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was hugely married at the time and my wife was asleep in the seat immediately in front of where I was sitting.

But I will say I have had one flying experience that could never be matched by any prosaic commercial airline offering, and that was the time I flew in a Canadian Air Force T-bird (pictured above). In gratitude for all the nice things I had written about our local airbase, CFB Comox, I was invited to take a flight in a vintage fighter jet. That was an event in my life that wasn’t boring. The pilot told me that such a flight is the closest you will get to the exultation of sex with your clothes on. He was right. After a full five-hour training session (in which I learned how to eject, God forbid, and other bits of esoterica) we took off in this bubble-topped rather venerable aircraft. It was amazingly exciting. I actually had the sensation of speed as we screamed across the Comox Valley and on towards the Beaufort range, and right out to Nootka Sound within mere minutes. We flew straight, we flew up (whence I found out what G-force really means), we flew down, jeopardizing my lunch, but I kept it down, we did rolls (not as unnerving as you might think), and anything else the pilot had in mind, or was directed to do.

Eventually we had to return, almost to my dismay. We came in by the back way from the west coast of the Island. Our plane and another fighter/trainer screamed at low altitude through a canyon in a scene most reminiscent of Star Wars. The pilot then asked if I would like to see the Glacier from the top. I did very much. He came in so low over the icecap that I felt I could step out of the cockpit and stroll around — except for the fact we were moving at hundreds of miles an hour.

At the end of the flight, I felt like the poet who penned ‘High Flight’. I truly felt like I had stuck out my hand and “touched the cheek of God.” You don’t get that on your average Air Canada flight, where a fella doesn’t even get a lousy bag of peanuts these days.

I might add that I’ve also never been upgraded. That comment is appropos of nothing other than I harbor a burning resentment in that regard.

*Warning: The following post contains suggestive material and may not be suitable for all audiences

My adored blogging sister, Jazz of Haphazard Life, recently wrote a wonderfully blasphemous blog in which she pondered whether the biblical Lazarus was perhaps the first print account of the existence of a zombie.

I liked it.

But, I don’t much care for zombies. I don’t ‘do’ zombies, if you will.

In fact, I don’t much do creatures of the nether world of any sort, like vampires and werewolves and other monstrous incarnations because I don’t believe in them.

I don’t believe in ghosts, either.

My otherwise very well-read, intelligent and logical grandmother (pictured here with my grandfather) believed implicitly in ghosts and maintained she’d had visitations from the back and beyond. But, she grew up in Edwardian times, an era in which folks believed in a lot of rubbish like the Titanic was unsinkable and that the hideousness of World War One was somehow a good and patriotic thing.

But, much as I loved her, I just never bought in.

That is not to say I don’t have my fantasies or that I mind speculative tales of the improbable. In fact, I do make one exception in terms of creatures that don’t really exist other than in the imagination, and that is as follows:

In folklore traced back to medieval legend, a succubus (plural succubi) is a female demon appearing in dreams who takes the form of a human woman in order to seduce men, usually through sexual intercourse.

Now, I could get around that idea. I mean, why something disgusting and rotting, or scary, when you could have a visitation from a babe? ‘Succubus’. Even the name is suggestive.

I could, of course, do without the bat-wings and the tail, and am picturing someone more in the vein of Scarlett Johansson or maybe Rose from Dr. Who.

Otherwise, I find the idea quite wonderful as a fantasy. Of course, it has been suggested that the idea was pushed by the early Catholic church as a warning against the ‘sin’ of self-abuse by the young.

And just so females don’t get left out of the nether-world carnality realm, there is also the incubus, who is a male who does the same dirty stuff.



This won’t take long, so just lie back and think of the Empire

Hey-hey-hey – Vickee-hee-hee!!

There, that’s my little song to Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who died 111 years ago is celebrated on this May weekend in Canada and good Canadians mark her legacy by camping out, planting their tomatoes, barbecuing and drinking a lot of beer, believing that any old excuse is good enough.

And it’s nearly summer, after all.

I honestly don’t know why we mark Victoria Day around this country, unless it’s just a milksop to those who take some solace in hanging on to our colonial legacy, for whatever reason best known to them.

Don’t count me amongst their numbers. Means nothing more to me than Groundhog Day other than the aforementioned long weekend.

In truth, however, Queen Victoria, who reigned for hundreds of years, was kind of an interesting little bird in her own right.

She is known for looking glum and being obdurately unamused was actually quite different from popular conceptions of her. While her name is lent to an era known for its uptightness, what with panties on piano legs and all, that prim morality is more likely attributable to her highly anal German hubby, one Prince Albert after whom a town in Saskatchewan and a pipe tobacco is named, not to mention a London concert hall and the ugliest memorial to be found in that metropolis.

But, evidently, according to her diaries, the young Vicky was a mighty horny little minx when she was first with Al, and she minces few words about her ardor over making the royal beast-with-two-backs. Good on her. And they did that – a lot – and she bore dozens of children, many of whom went on to marry morally bankrupt European royal sorts who eventually caused World War One.

Then Albert died untimely and Victoria went on to a prolonged grieving period in which she always wore black and was heavy-duty unamused. Her once loyal subjects were ticked with her negligence and dubbed her the Widow of Windsor. But then she happened upon a ‘kiltie’ named John Brown, who was her ‘gilly’ (whatever that is) and he brought her back to life by tapping into a long forsaken behavior that she had obviously missed since Albert had untimely left the scene.

And then she went on to amass the mightiest empire that ever existed and which ultimately resulted in a goodly number of disenchanted colonials and ‘pukka sahibs’ who shared a lot of Kiplingesque nonsense about “white man’s burden” and other politically incorrect rubbish.

Oh, and those colonial vestiges in Canada, predominantly to be found in her namesake city down south of here.

The only other thing that comes to mind about Victoria is that I once saw a pair of her knickers, not on her, but on display in (appropriately) the Victoria and Albert Museum. They were HUGE. No Victoria’s Secret about them.

If you’re in Canada I hope you’re having a great weekend in her name. If you’re in the US, then you have Memorial Day coming up.

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, or at least a fine, hormone-free chicken

Yesterday we went to the Farmers’ Market here for the first time this year. The morning was bright and sunny (I think that’s redundant) and it was just the perfect way to begin the weekend.

We milled around the stalls, people watched, bought some items like eggs, really good farm-raised chicken, assorted herbivorous things and fresh homemade donuts (to balance the green stuff, for fear of overdoing ‘healthy’.

I think Max enjoys our market jaunts as much as we do. He chats with all the other dogs there, and it’s so pleasing that dogs are as welcome as people. That’s what a market should be like in terms of tolerance.

There are some people around who would like the market to move indoors to a permanent structural enclosure – you know the sort of place; they’re called supermarkets. To those who would like that to come to pass, I say fie on them. In my mind I used a stronger ‘f’ word, but I don’t want to break your bucolic mood. Anyway, keep it outdoors and we’ll keep coming back.

We don’t confine our marketing to the local scene. When we travel we also check out the marketplaces. We have regularly attended the market in the little town of Kilauea on Kauai (pictured above). It’s actually quite similar to our homegrown version other than a much larger array of tropical fruits. We head over there after having Kauai coffee and the best macaroons on the planet at the Kilauea Bakery. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Unless you happen to attend the market at Avarua (pictured above) on the Cook Island of Rarotonga. There they throw on entertainment in the form of unscripted dogfights involving the feral canines that wander the island. That’s fun, as is wondering how long before one would succumb to e-coli after pondering for sale food dishes that involve a lot of mayonnaise and prawns that have been sitting in the tropical sun for hours. Either the Rarotongans have iron-clad guts or diarrhea is simply ‘one of those things’ in your reality. We didn’t take the chance. We figured we were safer buying coconut and bananas.

I absolutely loved the open market in the Arab Quarter of Grenoble. There you could avail yourself of clothing (with labels that may or may not have been real, and electronic equipment just recently fallen off a truck in the French countryside, and again vegetables and other foodstuffs, garden plants and whatever else you might be seeking. All of this was accompanied by a cast of characters out of an Indiana Jones movie.

I’ve also attended markets in many, many English cities and towns, and in Old Town San Diego. Something some stall operator here might consider and that is making and offering churros. That’d work for me.



If I actually lived in London, Boris would have my vote for many reasons

I was gratified to learn that rumpled and crumpled Boris Johnson had been re-elected mayor of London and even more gratified to know he’d defeated that tiresome old retro-Marxist ‘Red Ken.’

Why should I care about London’s political players? Well, primarily because I love London and Boris is such a wonderfully eccentric fit for a wonderfully eclectic city. My greatest joy when I lived in England many years ago was being able to get ‘up to London’ at least once a month, and all it took was a 1½ – hour train trip to be in the most amazing big city in the world. I’m of the Dr. Johnson (no relation to Boris) school that holds that ‘he who is tired of London is tired of life’.

And Boris personifies that view. If you don’t know Boris, or of him, he is worthy of your consideration. Looking like a disheveled private school boy he is, in fact, a bit of a slob. But a mighty smart slob. I got to know him best as a damn fine columnist and he still writes for the Telegraph, and one of the reasons I pick up the overseas edition of that paper is so I can read my Boris. His insights, even though I don’t always agree, are worthy of consideration, and despite some of his harum-scarum personal history, he is a sharp dude.

And he has a rep. A bit of a history as a philanderer in the past, and certainly no stranger to love of the grape, he is also indicted by those left of centre for his patrician background – Eton and Oxford. Yet, his love of his city and his dynamic in applying that love allowed him to surmount the whims of his detractors, despite the fact he looks like a schoolboy gone to seed..

And most of all, he’s not a bore.

And he even has green creds in that he rides his bike to work every day.

Wendy and I were talking the other day and I expressed the opinion that I could not think of one politician around the whole world that amounts to much more than a pinch of coonshit. And their biggest failures is that not only are so many incompetent, so many are colorless bores.

We currently have arguably the most boring prime minister in our history. I mean, whatever his skills or lack thereof, he remains amazingly uninteresting as a human being. Pierre Trudeau could be a jerk at times, but at least he was never boring. Yet, though I hate to say it, Obama has proved to be much more boring (and less talented) than I anticipated. And ‘stick-u-his-ass’ Romney, that fucking goes without saying. David Cameron of the UK? Just terminally whitebread. Sarkozy in France had a bit of style, but they have him (and his hottie wife) the boot. The new guy also has an even hotter wife. What’s with that? But, that’s another topic.

An interesting guy in a sort of repulsive way is that slobby Ford guy who’s mayor of Toronto and who tends to embarrass Torontonians with his ‘not our sort’ mannerisms, which is in itself a good thing. I don’t know much about him other than that he has run-ins with reporters and doesn’t like ‘Pride’ parades. But, at least he’s less boring than most. A scribe can always get a few amusing inches of copy out of the guy.

But, he’s nowhere near as charming as Boris. I’d vote for Boris and I’m glad a lot of other people did.



Next time around I’m going to do it ‘this’ way

As far as I know we only get one crack at this thing called ‘life’. Pisses me off, that does because once you’ve gained a certain mastery of the thing it comes to an end. Where’s the advantage in that?

I mean, there is reincarnation. But, most reincarnation precepts hold that once you croak the first time and then come back; you aren’t entitled to remember aspects of your former time around. You know, what with wading in the River Lethe and all. That sucks, too. You should be able to put what you’ve learned to good use and not make the same mistakes.

Now, should I return to this earthly sphere I do know the things I’d like to do, but also (and perhaps more importantly) the things I definitely would not do. I have lived and I have learned and am quite prepared to concede I have made some gaffes along the way. Nothing horrific, but counter-productive nonetheless.

I have been blessed, I am prepared to concede, in many respects. I got to be born where I was, in a democracy and a place that holds out hope for those with a modicum of talent and energy and a tad of intellect. I live in a decent neighborhood in a nice town. I’ve thus far never either committed a crime nor been a victim of one. I have friends whom I value and love. While my childhood was far from ideal, it wasn’t wretched. I wasn’t beaten or forced to do without material sustenance. My parents were law-abiding folk. And, although my mother became a rather sad alcoholic later in her life, for the most part she was OK.

Currently I live in a nice house with a nice lady whom I love greatly. She is somebody who was prepared to accept me, warts and all, after my – shall I say – pushed a bit to the limits years before I met her. Since she arrived I have kept to the straight-and-narrow, and I like that.

Now, here’s what I wouldn’t do in my next life:

–         get married young. I wasn’t all that young when I got married at age 24, but I was ridiculously ‘unformed’ in terms of wants and needs from a relationship. And, even though that marriage took a long time to founder, ultimately it did. Divorce isn’t at all enjoyable and if it could be avoided I’d like that next time around.

–         Start smoking A vicious and pernicious addiction that is hell to stop. What makes it worse is that (like many addictions) smoking is relentless in its appeal to pleasure centers. So, kids, don’t start and in my next life I’m not going to do so.

–         Be afraid: There have been courses and highways and byways in life that I haven’t followed because I haven’t had the self-confidence to say, “What the fuck, why not? If it doesn’t work out then it won’t work out. Where’s the loss?” Fear is soul-destroying.

–         Be unfaithful: A bit soul-destroying for all involved. I like to think that if I hadn’t gotten married young I might have kept my zipper in place with a little more resolve. Mind you, I also got to know some awfully charming people whom I cared about a lot.

And here’s what I would do:

–         Travel hugely: I’ve traveled a reasonable amount, I’ve lived abroad. I have seen many things. But there are also places I’ve never been and things I’ve never seen. I want to see them all. I know I can’t this time around, but next time, sure I will.

–         Have children: I have no children. This one’s simple. I’d love to have a child. Preferably, as I was raised in a masculine household, a girl child. Female toddlers can practically make me weep with delight at seeing them.

–         Be circumspect with alcohol: In my day I loved a fine wine, a pint of best bitter, a single-malt scotch, a vintage cognac. I loved them, but I didn’t respect them. They ultimately didn’t respect me. So ultimately I bade them ta-ta. I don’t miss them, but it would have saved a lot of bullshit from happening if I’d, say, recognized what was happening.

–         Explore all the depths of love I can muster: Love is what life is all about and it should be considered deeply. I’d like another crack at it and do it better.

So, I probably won’t get that extra shot – but you never know.